By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North, Alice Festus & Faith Gora
ABUJA — Nigeria’s Federal Capital, Abuja, was literally grounded, yesterday, as about 30,000 women drawn from 36 states of the Federation, led by the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, held a rally to sensitise women in the country on the gains recorded so far in enhancing peace and women empowerment.
The event, which was held at the Eagles Square, effectively cut off workers from the imposing Federal Secretariat on both Shehu Shagari Way and Ibrahim Babangida Road, forcing them to trek to the office.
Surprise for Abuja workers, residents
The event, which took workers and residents by surprise, also prevented commercial and government drivers from dropping their passengers, mostly workers in their designated bus stops around the secretariat.
Instead, hordes of stern-looking and gun-totting security men, who had descended on the venue before dawn, ordered them to stop some 200 metres away from the Square, which is surrounded by the Federal Secretariat.
As vehicular and human traffic was effectively cut off from all the routes leading to the venue of the rally, tagged, “Nigerian Women Rally for Peace and Empowerment”, frustrated motorists were directed to any available route. This led to a traffic snarl in most part of the day.
Consequently, all major streets in the business district of Abuja were blocked by traffic, giving traffic wardens a hectic day. While the traffic chaos lasted, armed soldiers and battle-ready policemen took positions on strategic road intersections, frisking commuters and pedestrians.
The armed men on the streets were given aerial support by military helicopters, which hovered over the venue of the rally, making occasional displays, as they flew past.
At the rally,Dame Jonathan, backed by Vice President Namadi Sambo and some ministers and their spouses, relished the show as thousands of women danced and marched past them.
The First Lady smiled and waved at the women groups, as the floats ferrying them drove past.
Women in various military and paramilitary agencies in the country and women organisations gave goodwill messages to the President’s wife.
Speaking at the ceremony, First Lady, Dr. Patience Jonathan, who is also the President, African First Ladies Peace Mission, explained that the show was intended to mobilize and galvanize Nigerian women towards greater contribution to peace and the overall development of the Nigerian nation.
She stated that women have an important role to play in sustaining and advancing the cause of peace and development in the country.
She described Nigeria as one of the best endowed countries in the world, stressing that with greater understanding and love among all Nigerians the country would certainly achieve her full potentials.
First Lady hails women
The First Lady gave kudos to the various women groups from all states of the federation and the FCT for their support, while thanking the President and many state governors for giving the womenfolk opportunity to serve at various levels in the civil and public sector.
Among those who attended the ceremony were Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo, FCT Minister Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed, many female and male ministers, including the Minister of State for FCT, Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide, the First Lady of the Republic of South Africa, Mrs. Jacob Zuma and the first ladies of two other African countries.
Also present at the event were members of the diplomatic corps, Federal Executive Council, National Assembly as well as wives of state governors among others.
The rally was spiced with musical and cultural renditions, and among those who rendered highly inspiring music at the ceremony were Onyeka Onwenu, Inyanya, Johnny, Yinka Ayefele, Sani Danja and Young Snatchers.
Security lock down in Abuja
The security lockdown in Abuja, Vanguard learnt, was also necessitated by the suspicion that some insurgents had planned to attack certain places in the country this week.
As a result of the rally and the snarl in the city, major institutions could hardly operate for most of the day.
The rally, which was attended by women from across the states, began from the Old Parade Ground through some designated routes in the FCT and terminated at the Eagles Square.
Most commuters, who spoke with Vanguard, described their ordeal as horrible and blamed government for inflicting such hardship on them.
Abiodun Azeez, a taxi driver said: “The traffic was just too much. I wonder if the organisers took into consideration the havoc caused the ordinary citizens, whose means of livelihood was disrupted for the day.
“I met the traffic right from the Yar’Ádua Centre and immediately turned away from that road and followed another route only to be confronted by a more serious snarl in the town. For that reason, I had to drop my car and take a special drop, which could not take me to my office because security men stopped the driver before the Eagle Square.
Emmanuel Ayara, a businessman said: “I dropped my car at Area III Junction. I stay in Mararaba and I work at Commerce Plaza in Area III. Yes, there was a little traffic at AYA, but initially I wanted to pass through Central Area; I couldn’t pass through Central Area because of the traffic. That is why I decided to drop my car and use taxi to come to town yet I couldn’t move in town, you can see me with my load that is why I just had to drop with my load and walk.”
Mrs Grace Kani, a worker with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, Abuja, lamented the effect of the lockdown on her business, saying it was not a pleasant experience to be trapped in traffic for over five hours.
Adeniyi Akanni said: “It was very difficult getting here and it is affecting our business and for me, I will just abandon that central area and I will not carry passengers going down that way because if I go there, I will get stuck there.”